Sunday, March 29, 2015

When Fans become Followers or When Jesus asks YOU to get the donkey

1When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
          Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10       Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
          Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
This sermon owes a huge debt of creative inspiration to the essay "Donkey Fetchers" by Thomas G. Long. 

Hosanna! Today is Palm Sunday, the day we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem. The air is celebratory and joyous. Just like the crowd in Jerusalem, we cheer for Jesus with our palms alongside those who were welcoming him as he rode in on a young donkey. 

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This ride into Jerusalem is Jesus’ rock star moment. His reputation precedes him and everyone wants to get a glimpse of him.  Jesus’ fandom lines the street and lays down cloaks for him to walk on. Maybe it was like when the Beatles would come in concert cause women to scream and faint.  Or maybe it’s like on of those comic conventions when a Star Wars or Star Trek actor line up for an autograph.

Fans of the Beatles and Star Wars and even Jesus get passionately excited in the presence of the person that they adore.  They shout and wave their hands. Their hearts burst with love and excitement. And then they go home and tell everyone about their encounter.

But both the stars of today and Jesus have other people around them, too. They have people who take care of them. People who do things like make sure they eat, book rooms and in Jesus’ case go get the donkey. These people are on more intimate terms with the “star.” These people are more than fans. They are more like followers.

On that original Palm Sunday, we are given a story of Jesus’ fans cheering and woo-hooing along the road. They've heard about him and want to catch a glimpse of him in person. If this were today, there'd be selfies and Twitter updates. It’s great to be a fan of Jesus. To be excited about Jesus is a great experience. We should all be fans of Jesus!

But, if you are a fan of Jesus, you'll want to be prepared because at some point Jesus is going to want you to do more than just cheer.  At some point, Jesus is going to turn to you and say:

Go get the donkey.  

Jesus is going to send you into the world to do something.  And if you are ready to transition from fan to follower, you'll start after that donkey.  You will trudge into town and untie a strange, unbroken and smelly animal. When people look at you like you are crazy and ask you why you are untying the donkey, you will simply say because. Or perhaps, the LORD needs it.

Now, your donkey may not be a literal donkey like the disciples in the story. But, Jesus is calling you to the work of ministry, which involves a lot of donkey fetching. Getting a donkey means you are participating in the unglamorous or even unpopular work of ministry. But, donkey fetching is part of following Jesus.

I know we have a lot of donkey fetchers in this congregation. We have people who check the sanctuary every month, making sure the hymnals and Bible’s are arranged. We have people who buy and cut up the communion bread, people who provide the food for lunches and wash the dishes, clean closets and pull the weeds.  Thanks be to God for all the people who participate in donkey ministry.  We have a lot of followers of Jesus, not just fans.

But, notice in the story that the disciples are asked to leave the group to go get the donkey.  He says, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it."

Jesus doesn't make it easy on his followers, his disciples. He's always changing up the expectations. Different circumstances have different needs, different donkeys, if you will. The followers aren’t asked to do the same thing over and over—sometimes they feed hungry people, sometimes heal sick people, sometimes they find lodging, and sometimes they get the donkey. 

If your ministry has been the same year after year, I wonder if Jesus has placed a different donkey out in the world for you to fetch.

Sometimes we discern that Jesus is telling us to go on ahead. Maybe Jesus wants us to leave the group and connect with people in another place—people who are younger than us or richer than us or poorer than us or of a different race. Maybe it time for us to go ahead and get a different donkey--to do our ministry differently as individuals or as a group. 

Maybe our donkey call is to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us—as Jesus taught.

Maybe we are called to hands-on mission by helping with the food bank distribution or with the Salvation Army.

Maybe we are called to feed thousands of hungry people when all we have is a loaf of bread.  

Go to the village ahead of you and get that donkey, Jesus says.

And we may sigh and make excuses and resist because being a fan of Jesus is sooo much easier than being a follower. Why not experience the glory without the suffering? Why not just confess Jesus with our lips and lift our hands in praise once a week and then go on as usual?

The followers, the donkey fetchers know why. We follow for one reason alone. LOVE. We follow Jesus because first loved us. We don’t do it for the promise of reward. We don't do it so that we can exchange it someday for a crown. We do it because we feel the love of God right here and now and we want to love God back to the best of our ability. None of us follow perfectly, but we try.

As I was thinking about the difference between what it means to be a fan or a follower of Jesus, I couldn’t help but remember our baptism today. And how much donkey getting there is in parenthood.

In the coming months we will be cheering and celebrating mothers and fathers for their respective special days. Everyone is a fan of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Those days lift up the job of parenting, making it seem easy. All the mothers on the TV ads are beautiful and radiant. Dads are never stressed or out of shape. And none of them are ever changing diapers or wiping noses.

But, in many ways the journey of parenthood is like the journey of being a Jesus follower. There are “show” days. Palm Sunday and Easter or Mother’s and Father’s Days. These are days of celebration and joy.

And then there are the other days, the many days where we tend to the more mundane in what can feel like a never ending series of everyday tasks. Feeding, bathing, changing, convincing a child to sleep. Again and again and again. Here at the church, we cook and clean and print bulletins and practice readings. Again and again and again. 

Those who have raised children know that becoming a parent means that your life is no longer your own, your heart shifts. The needs of the child come first. We change our whole lives to accommodate our children.  They way we eat, sleep, exercise and even speak changes. The people we hang around with changes. Our heart shifts— and with it our lives.

And that’s the difference between a fan and follower of Jesus. A follower has experienced a heart shift. A huge piece of a Jesus follower’s heart belongs to Christ. When this happens, our whole life changes. When this happens and Jesus asks us go ahead and do some donkey fetching, we say yes. 

Following Jesus isn’t just about belting out our favorite praise songs and heading home. It's about committing to do what Jesus asks. When we do this weird things happen. We start to see Jesus in odd and sometimes broken places. When we become a follower, we gain the strength and courage to go on ahead to the next thing. Sometimes it's inspiring and rewarding. Sometimes it's mundane. Sometimes it's downright terrifying. 

But, even though Jesus tells us to go ahead, Jesus has been there already himself. There is no place that we can go where we can't find Jesus. Jesus, Emmanuel, God with Us, has fetched his share of donkeys. He did the mundane. He did the unpopular. And he called it ministry. 

Eventually, he did the unthinkable, and we call it salvation. The crowd of fans turns against him. His most devoted followers fall away from him. But Jesus goes on ahead. By the end, there are no Hosannas or palms waving. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus goes ahead to the cross on his own. The women watch from a distance. 

Why did he do it? Why did Jesus go ahead with it? Probably to fetch a few donkeys like you and me. 

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